US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce on Monday that the US is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood.
Pompeo plans to repudiate a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the West Bank are “inconsistent with international law.” The move will likely anger Palestinians and put the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.
The Trump administration views the opinion, the basis for long-standing US opposition to expanding the settlements, as a distraction and believes any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts, according to a draft of Pompeo’s remarks on the policy obtained by The Associated Press.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo says in the draft. “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”
US administration moves that have weakened Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood have included US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the movement of the US embassy to that city, and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.
Even though the decision is largely symbolic, it could also give a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival, after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections.
Israel was dealt a blow just last week when the European Court of Justice ruled products made in Israeli settlements must be labeled as such.
The European Union rejects the US announcement that it does not view West Bank settlements as illegal under international law, and says its stance has not changed.
“The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace,” an EU spokesperson says in a statement.
“The EU will continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
Settlements in occupied #Palestine are a blatant violation of Int’l law & UNSCRs. They are an illegal action that’ll kill 2-state solution. Jordan’s position in condemning them is unwavering. We warn against dangerous consequences of US change of position on settlements on MEPP
Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails the US announcement on its policy change toward West Bank settlements.
“Today, the United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law,” his office says in a statement.
“This policy reflects a historical truth — that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria. In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea,” the Prime Minister’s Office adds. “The Trump administration policy is also correct in stating that those who have categorically denied any legal basis for the settlements not only deny truth, history and the reality on the ground, they also set back the cause of peace, which can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.
“Israel’s legal system, which has proven itself fully capable of addressing legal questions related to the settlements, is the appropriate place for these matters to be adjudicated — not biased international forums that pay no attention to history or facts. Israel remains ready and willing to conduct peace negotiations with the Palestinians regarding all final status issues in an effort to achieve a durable peace but will continue to reject all arguments regarding the illegality of the settlements.
“Israel is deeply grateful to President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the entire US administration for their steadfast position supporting truth and justice, and calls upon all responsible countries who hope to advance peace to adopt a similar position.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the decision to repudiate a legal opinion saying West Bank settlements are not inconsistent with international law has not harmed prospects of a two-state solution .
“We recognized the reality on the ground. We provided a space for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate. We have increased the likelihood” of a political solution, he contends.
“We have provided the very space for Israel and the Palestinians to come together. What we did here was conduct a legal analysis,” Pompeo says and adds that it was not intended to send a message approving further settlements. “It was intended to be a legal review.”
He adds that the policy change was not driven by domestic political concerns and that he is not concerned the move will isolate Washington on the matter.
“We have encouraged nations to stand up for the State of Israel, so I don’t think the decision increases the isolation,” Pompeo says.